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Deconstructing security.

Environmental security. Food security. Military security. Markets security. Social security. Human security. It seems that all the aspects of everyday life are covered by some form of security. Barry Buzan deplored, in the first edition of his very famous book, People, States, and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post Cold War Era, the fact that the concept of 'security' was insufficiently developed in international relations and political science and that it was only used in its military dimension (Buzan 1983). The situation is completely different nowadays and probably Barry Buzan will not have anything to complain about anymore. Because the concept of 'security' penetrated the whole range of human activities. But the unstoppable inflation of 'security' discourses might prove just as unproductive, if not as dangerous, as neglecting the concept.

The method

The main question that will guide this article concerns the evolution of the understanding of 'security' since the 80s, when Barry Buzan first draw the attention to the limited use of the concept, until nowadays, when it seems that 'security' is everywhere. We will make an inquiry into the meaning of this emphasis on security and the way it can be interpreted, or read.

The term 'reading' immediately directs us to the idea of textuality, of the world as being constituted like a text that we incessantly interpret (Derrida 1967a). We will actually try to interpret the discursive phenomena that created an inflation of the security preoccupations among theorists, policy-makers and the public opinion through a method proposed by Jacques Derrida, which is the double reading (Derrida 1972a; 1972b). The method has been successfully used in IR theory by Richard Ashley (Ashley 1988), who deconstructed the concept of "anarchy" through a double reading. This is a strategy of interpretation of the discourse and, finally, of the world understood as a discourse or text. The first reading is a commentary, or repetition, of the dominant interpretation, which reproduces its apparent internal coherence. It is a re-construction or re-assembling of the mainstream discourse. The second reading is an attempt to seize the instability points of the first reading, with the purpose of exposing its internal tensions, the system of binary oppositions upon which rests the dominant interpretation, as well as what is excluded from it. The reason why we chose this method is that we have been intrigued by the easiness with which the word 'security' is associated with every aspect of everyday life, as if an immediate and constant danger would perpetually hang over us. This led us to raise the question of how we came to consider this constant preoccupation for security as being natural. How did this stability effect appear? The double reading method will allow us to grasp the way in which the discourse about security was constructed and whom it serves, since, in the words of Robert Cox "theory is always for someone and for some purpose" (Cox 1981: 128). It will show how this discourse has been instrumented by the political power in order to extend the sphere of intervention of the State into the private lives of the citizens. This approach has the advantage of questionning the status quo of the theory, as well as concepts that are usually taken for granted (and 'security' is one of them) with the purpose of showing how knowledge and power are intertwined (Foucault 1975).

'Security' doesn't seem to be a problematic concept. It has been so widely debated since it was relaunched by the Copenhagen school, that it would appear that little has been left outside the discussion. However, it is precisely this saturation and its apparent stability that makes it problematic. The most stable concepts, the most deeply embedded in 'normal' discursive practices, the most taken for granted, are, in fact, the most problematic, because we ceased to question them a long time ago. Without being questioned, they subtly evolved in a way that we are not aware of. Moreover, after September 11, the concept of 'security' has evolved in an at least bizarre opposition with 'liberty': it appears that societies have to choose between being more secure, with the price of restricting their liberties, and keeping their civil liberties untouched, with the price of being in danger (58). Except for some IR researchers from the poststructuralist stand, such as R.B.J. Walker, Jef Huysmans, Didier Bigo, who took part in the Challenge project (Challenge 2009), nobody has yet questioned this opposition; moreover, the policy-makers present it as inevitable, and the public opinions take it for granted. Thus, the object of our inquiry is not security as such, but the meaning it has in today's discursive practices. Derrida thought that "we need to interpret interpretations more than we need to interpret things" (Derrida 1967 b). We will try to unveil what has been hidden behind the apparent stability and consensus around the meaning of concept of 'security', through the strategy of double reading.

Why is this strategy useful? According to Derrida, we have to identify the double structure of meaning of a concept (Derrida 1972b: 10). The first one is inherent to what he calls 'logocentrism'--that is, the system of significations which is commonly assigned to a concept in the current discursive practices. In this reading, the concept is clear, stable, apparently natural and unquestioned, because the whole network of meanings in constituted inside the discourse. The second structure of meaning is external to the discourse and is related to the understanding of its mode of constitution and instability points, that have to be uncovered. This is the task of the second reading. In what concerns our subject, the first reading will reproduce the security discourses as they appear in IR theory, security studies, but also in political practice. This will be a simple repetition of the dominant, mainstream way of understanding security in the recent decades. We will uncover the way in which 'security' has been coupled with various other concepts; one direction of inquiry will be, for example, the process that constituted the concept of 'human security', leading to 'humanitarian assistance' and 'humanitarian intervention', to end up, nowadays, in 'responsibility to protect'. During the second reading, we will try to deconstruct the evolution of the discourse about security in order to understand the significance of this evolution, on the one hand, for the relations between the 'international community' and the nation-State, and, on the other, between the State and the citizen. This will inevitably lead us to the problem of sovereignty, which is, after all, underlying all discussion about international security in the 21th century. As we will show, during the evolution of the concept, a shift has taken place. At the beginning of the debate, the need for human security was used in an attempt to justify humanitarian intervention. But, since this could not be reconciled with the basic principle of state sovereignty, the concept shifted towards 'responsibility to protect'. This concept, while replacing that of 'humanitarian intervention' after 2000, is not incompatible with sovereignty.

Security: the first reading

From hard security to societal security

Security seems to have been the most important preoccupation of men in the state of nature, as described by the contractualist philosophers of the 17th and 18th century. This is the main reason why they decide to give up part of their individual sovereignty by willingly submitting to political power: "Fear of oppression, disposeth a man to anticipate, or to seek aid by society: for there is no other way by which a man can secure his life and liberty" (Hobbes 1651: XI, 9). Security is, according to Hobbes, the main incentive for men to live in society; this is also the task of the highest authority of the State: "The office of the sovereign (be it a monarch or an assembly) consisteth in the end, for which he was trusted with the sovereign power, namely the procuration of the safety of the people (...) But by safety here, is not meant a bare preservation, but also all other contentments of life, which every man by lawful industry, without danger, or hurt to the commonwealth, shall acquire to himself" (Hobbes 1651: XXX, 1). In a strange way, the words of Hobbes seem to anticipate the meaning given to 'security' by the Copenhagen School in the 1990s: not only preservation of life, but also a whole range of conditions that assure a good life in all its dimensions.

While all through the Cold War, security has been perceived in military terms security meaning protection of the State against the threat of a conventional or nuclear war--towards the end of the 1980s, Hobbes' definition seems to slip into the field of international politics. The author who brought it in is Barry Buzan; in his first book on the subject (Buzan 1983) he argued that too little attention has been devoted to the concept of 'security' in International Relations. His ideas needed a few years to develop into an articulated vision which attracted other scholars. Together with Ole Waever and other theorists, he produced a categorization of security into five different fields: military, political, economic, environmental, and societal (Buzan, Waever, Kelstrup and Lemaitre 1993). These authors observed that the new European security agenda of the end of the 20th century focuses on other types of security threats than the traditional, Cold War security agenda, which was mainly preoccupied by military aspects. After the Cold War, security can be re-conceptualized on two dimensions: "state security"--in the traditional sense, and "societal security", which is focused on identity as the basic value of a society. Identity, the authors contend, is at least as important as physical preservation; this is why a threatened identity is at least as significant as a military security threat. But threats to identity are not as visible as military threats; they come into being only by being stated by a political actor. This is actually the key of the vision of the Copenhagen School, offered by Ole Waever (Waever 1995). Security threats are performed through speech acts; they only exist if they are perceived as such; and they come to be perceived by a society if there is a political actor which emphasizes them. Thus, security issues are those issues that are "staged as existential threats to referent objects by a securitizing actor who thereby generates endorsement of emergency measures beyond rules that would otherwise bind" (Buzan, Waever and De Wilde 1998: 5). This is the core of Waever's famous theory of 'securitization' (59). The influence of Carl Schmitt on Waever's work is visible in this statement, as this definition explains the way in which security threats can be used in order to invoke a state of exception that asserts sovereignty beyond the legal norms of a society (Schmitt 1922). We can go further and infer that this is the way in which State sovereignty, more and more threatened by the 21st century evolutions of the international environment (we can also include here international criminal justice), tries to survive the new globalized, transnational and de-territorialized realities of our world.

Coming back to our discussion, the definition quoted above shows that Buzan and Waever are aware of the danger that political actors use the discourse about security threats in order to promote their political purposes. But they do not explicitly assume the role of theory in contributing to this kind of political behavior: after all, it is the book of Barry Buzan, Peoples, States, and Fear, which brought to the fore the whole discussion and discourse about security. Political practice and political theory are the two mutually enforcing sides of the same coin: an idea launched by one of them has all the chances to be developed further by the other, and sometimes theories of IR become self-fulfilling prophecies. The status of the realist theory and the related geopolitical doctrines (containment, domino theory etc.) during the Cold War, and the way in which they inspired policy-making that in its turn led to the confirmation of the realist geopolitical arguments, is the most notorious example (O'Tuathail and Agnew 1992; O'Tuathail 1998).

The discourse about security constructs State identities in a world so fluid that States need to incessantly reassess themselves. The idea that States maintain their very existence through security discourses has been further examined by IR scholars. One of the most famous contributions belongs to David Campbell, according to whom "The constant articulation of danger through foreign policy is thus not a threat to a state's identity or existence: it is its condition of possibility" (Campbell 1998: 12), but there are also other contributions to the topic (such as Stern 2005).

The extension of the sphere of the concept of 'security' through the 1980s and especially the 1990s was possible because the end of the Cold War fundamentally changed the configuration of the world--and that of the theory itself. If bipolarity has proven to be the most stable type of international structure (Mearsheimer 1990), the new configuration allowed for proliferation of conflicts, porousness of borders, and massive flows of people. Moreover, the number of internal conflicts (civil was) has dramatically increased after 1990, surpassing the number of conflicts among States. The mutual control exercised by the two superpowers on each other and their satellite States had limited the proliferation of threats other than military ones--on the contrary, bipolarity and ideology functioned as identity-enhancers for the societies concerned. The radical change of configuration of the international system needed a theoretical discourse to explain it. This is how, in the context of more and more instability, the discourse about security proliferated.

From societal security to human security

The end of the 1990s brought another evolution of the concept of 'security'. After it had been transposed into economic, political, environmental and, most thoroughly developed, societal terms, the word was given a new dimension in the expression human security. The term has been launched by the United Nations Development Program: the Human Development Report of 1994 is entitled "New Dimensions of Human Security" (UNDP 1994). The concept "equates security with people rather than territories, with development rather than arms" (UNDP 1994). Its use spreads all through the second half of the 1990s, although there is no agreement as to its definition (Crouzatier et al., 2009); it mostly refers to human living conditions, as stated by the Report quoted above: "Human security can be said to have two main aspects. It means, first, safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression. And second, it means protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life--whether in homes, in jobs or communities" (UNDP 1994). Other authors define it as "freedom from fear and want" (Chen 1995), which is quite unrealistic especially in what concerns the second part of the definition, the human nature being always inclined to need more as it acquires more. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs sheds more light on the issue: "Human security means protecting fundamental freedoms. It means protecting people from critical and pervasive threats and situations. It means using processes that build on people's strengths and aspirations. It means creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that, when combined, give people the building blocks for survival, livelihood and dignity" (UN Trust Fund for Human Security 2011). What needs to be kept in mind is that the accent is not on the State anymore, but on the human being; it is actually an attempt of the UN to promote this kind of discourse to the detriment of the States' power and in favor of an interventionist approach. But the problem is that 'human security' can be placed in the same category of concepts as 'sustainable development': it has a lot of normative appeal, everyone agrees that it's needed, but no one can actually tell how it can be achieved. The extensive definitions of 'human security' go as far as to cover even the 'food security' or 'psychological well-being', which are obviously not operational. Even more ambiguous is the subject of human security: is it the individual? The citizen? The communities? The society? The people? Or the 'population'? Scientific literature on the subject does not tackle this issue, and the documents of the UN which make reference to the notion are even more cautious in designating the subject. Or, as we will show in our second reading, the political subject to whom are addressed the efforts of protection of the international community is very significant for the way in which the new international landscape is being constituted.

The notion of 'human security' has been promoted mostly by the UN (Newmann and Richmond 2002; MacFarlane and Khong 2006), which also created a Commission on Human Security; and, in what concerns States, by traditional middle powers that are known for their humanitarian positions inside the Organization, such as Canada or Norway. These two states created, in 2000, a Human Security Network, composed of the States and NGOs that supported the concept. The shift of the emphasis from the State to the human being allows for the inclusion, into the concept of human security, of situations that occur inside States--such as genocides committed by the State itself against its own people. The multiplication of infra-state conflicts and events that lead to waves of refugees, migration and political instability certainly contributed to this shift, as well as to the consecration, in international politics, of another controversial notion: 'humanitarian intervention'.

The delicate balance between the two terms of the expressions we are studying is very important for understanding the evolution of the discursive practices around the notion of 'security' in IR. Since its resurrection, the notion of 'security' shifted to 'societal security' and 'human security'. Then, the emphasis moved to the other term of the expression: the human dimension. The need to protect--or to assure the security of populations--was a preferred topic in the international political discourse of the 1990s and 2000s. Actually, 'human security' is a notion that evolves in a close relation to those of 'humanitarian protection', 'humanitarian assistance' and 'humanitarian intervention'--a term that has been used for the first time to characterize the UN intervention for the protection of the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq, in 1991 (Bozarslan 1993) (60). The UNSC Resolutions avoid using these terms, but they appear in other soft law texts of the UN, such as the General Assembly resolutions. However, the idea of humanitarian intervention could not gain much terrain: while its supporters insisted on the word 'humanitarian', its contenders emphasized the word 'intervention'. The different emphasis puts the notion in two very different perspectives. The first is focused on the need to protect human lives at all costs, thus putting human rights above the idea of sovereignty. The second insists on the observance of sovereignty as the fundamental norm of international law: its infringement, in the name of humanitarian intervention, would open the way for abuses. The end of the 1990s brought about several too bold speeches of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, about the need for humanitarian intervention (for a discussion around these initiatives, see Weiss 2000): after this moment, this type of discourse begins to fade, which can be a sign of the pressure from the States against the idea of interventionism.

From human security to the responsibility to protect

Around the year 2005 can be identified a turning point in the legal language of the UN bodies. Although they refer to the same objects and actions, the texts don't speak of human security or humanitarian intervention anymore, but of the responsibility to protect. The international lawyers are aware of the difficulty of putting together human security, in its broad sense, with the fundamental norm of the international system during the last four centuries: sovereignty. This is why the term responsibility to protect seems better suited to cover what was called before human security or humanitarian intervention: because it manages to reconcile the idea of intervention with State sovereignty (61). Although the three notions cover the same type of consequences in terms of actions of the international community, the logic behind them is different and they are not perfectly equivalent. Human security had a wide sphere of application, covering also economic aspects such as poverty and underdevelopment, and (as we tried to show previously) it was rather poorly defined. The notion of humanitarian intervention had quite a short career, since it was widely criticized, and the idea of intervention could not gain terrain against the opposition of States. Finally, the responsibility to protect seems to overcome the shortcomings of the other two, being in the same time more precise and less invasive.

But all these three notions finally lead to the idea that the international community should intervene in order to secure threatened human lives. Thus, in the end, this was only a question of wording and a theoretical artifice that rendered the idea of international intervention more acceptable for the States (62).

The title of the Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, delivered in 2001, is precisely "The Responsibility to Protect" (ICISS 2001). Thus, the UN, as well as the other supporters of the idea of humanitarian intervention and human security, such as Canada, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, or the Netherlands, replaced it with the notion of responibility to protect, hoping for a better receival from the part of the reluctant States. The concept of 'responsibility to protect' is based on the idea that sovereignty not only confers rights to States, but also entails obligations, mainly, the obligation to protect the life of citizens (more on this issue in Cabanis, Crouzatier, Ivan, Mihali, and Mbonda 2010). This idea is clearly endorsed by the UN General Assembly and expressed in the Paragraphs 138 and 139 of the Outcome Declaration (UN General Assembly, 2005). When the State is not able or not willing to assume this obligation, it is the duty of the international community to intervene, even with military means. The Millennium +5 Declaration reads: "...we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity" (UN General Assembly 2005: par. 139). In another UN document from 2009 we find the following formulation: "It is now well established in international law and practice that sovereignty does not bestow impunity on those who organize, incite or commit crimes relating to the responsibility to protect" (UN General Assembly 2009: par. 54). The fact itself that the UN bodies use this type of language is an important evolution in what concerns the content of the notion of sovereignty.

There is another sign of the lawyers' and politicians' hesitation to use the notions discussed above and of the strong opposition from the States to the related idea of limited sovereignty. If we read the political discourse of the second half of the 2000s, we can notice that the scope of the term human security narrows, while the scope of the notion of responsibility to protect is also very limited. The international community is not willing to assume the responsibility to protect 'populations' from hunger or unemployment, as it seemed in the 1990s, but the responsibility is limited to four cases: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing (the latter being the only one, of the four terms, that has not been defined in conventional law). The terms become thus more explicit and operational.

The return of national security

In parallel with the emergence of the notion of responsibility to protect, another evolution can be grasped in international politics after the September 11 attacks, namely, the return of the emphasis on national security or 'homeland security'. The war against terrorism brought about a whole series of measures intended to increase security, such as the Patriot Act or the law of the Military Commissions in the USA (Wedgwood 2002), but also the 2008 security package in Italy (Merlino 2009). In order to be safe, the governments argued, citizens must accept to give up some of their liberties--such as, for example, the secrecy of correspondence or of medical files. Moreover, governments are more and more preoccupied by threats from within, such as immigration or terrorism. These are two of the most quoted 'new types of threats' indexed in the national security strategies of the Western countries. But the difference with respect to the Cold War national security discourse are obvious: the threats are not exterior to the state anymore. They come from within; the anarchic foreign environment has infiltrated itself inside the States, threatening its coherence, its cohesion, and its existence.

The Second Reading

How did the international community come to give that much importance to the need for security of the populations, while this has been a neglected topic throughout the Cold War? How was possible this evolution which started with a strong emphasis on State sovereignty (through the notion of State security, relaunched by Buzan at the beginning of the 1980s), in order to arrive at a point in which more international security is related to a limitation of sovereignty, while more homeland security is purportedly requiring a limitation of civil rights, and hence a re-affirmation of sovereignty as capacity to decide exception (Schmitt 1922)? Which are the binomials and the exclusions that made possible this evolution? What kind of international system, or society, does this evolution foreshadow?

We think that the evolution of the content of the notion of 'security', as we traced it in the first reading, is a hypostasis of the transformation of the nature of sovereignty. In what follows, we will argue that the discourse about 'security' reflects two opposed, but complementary, transformations of this notion: the erosion of the external sovereignty, on the one hand, and the consolidation of the internal sovereignty (as an attempt of the State to re-constitute what has been lost in the first sequence of this process) on the other hand. We will thus proceed by highlighting the false opposition, constructed through political discourse, between security and liberty, with a special emphasis on the securitization practices. We will then try to establish the semantic field of the concept of 'security' and the notions that are most often associated with it. In a third step of our reading, we will study the relation between security and sovereignty in both its internal and external dimensions, showing the way in which the State is trying to re-constitute its political body and hence its sovereign power through the manipulation of the security discourses. Finally, we will examine the new meaning of State sovereignty associated with responsibility.


We showed earlier the way in which political actors use security threats in order to invoke a state of emergency (Waever 1995) or a state of exception, thereby reasserting their sovereignty. More and more often, especially after September 11, we hear politicians speaking of the 'balance' between liberty and security. Because of the 'new types of threats', mostly the threats from within, the governments justify the institution of exceptional measures that suspend the normal legal order. IR scholars from the critical and postmodern schools already inquired this tendency (Challenge 2009). The Challenge project tries to deconstruct the apparent naturalness of the dichotomy liberty-security, suggesting that we don't actually have to make a choice between being surveyed and being threatened. On the contrary: the language of balancing "justifies discriminations, legal transgressions and violence of security policies by implying that the exceptional and the violent can always be reconciled with the acceptable..." (Challenge 2009). In the same line of arguments, the Challenge project shows the way in which, based on the exceptional security policies designed to prevent illegal migration and terrorism in the EU, the distinction between police and military is more and more diluted, mainly because of the increasing ambiguity of the distinction between internal and external. Or, it is precisely this distinction that constitutes the State: "the opposition between sovereignty and anarchy rests on the possibility of clearly dividing a domesticated political space from an undomesticated outside" (Devetak 2001: 193). When the distinction is not clear anymore, the very identity of the State as a political subject is threatened.

In fact, some kind of opposition between liberty and security can be traced back to Hobbes: "the condition of mere nature, that is to say, of absolute liberty (...) is anarchy, and the condition of war..." (Hobbes 1651: XXXI). By contrast, the institution of the sovereign limits liberty, but insures "the safety of the people" (Hobbes 1651: XXX, 1). In this binary system, security is the term that is positively valued, while absolute liberty is equated with the state of anarchy and the war of all against all. Richard Ashley has shown the way in which the system of binary oppositions works in IR, using the example of what he calls the anarchy problematique (Ashley 1988): one of the two terms of an opposition is always preferred over the other. In the hierarchical opposition anarchy-sovereignty, it is always sovereignty, and thus the internal realm of the State, which is positively valued (Ashley 1988: 230. The author calls this 'heroic practice'). The political discourse about 'security' is on its way of creating this kind of hierarchical opposition with 'liberty': one cannot enjoy his/her liberty, if he/she is deprived of life. Or, security is, above all, about the preservation of life. The analogy with Ashley's couple can go further: just like sovereignty, security is rational, homogenous and continuous, while liberty supposes permanent change, instability, contingency and ambiguity. Thus, 'sovereignty' and 'security' are both concepts with a high capacity to be foundational concepts, because they appear to be stable and rational.

The theorists of the Copenhagen School have understood the political consequences of the semantic extension, operated by themselves, of the notion of 'security'. At the end of the 1990s, Buzan, Waever and De Wilde drew a signal on the potential of politicization of threats, which they call securitization (Buzan, Waever and De Wilde 1998). They describe the way in which a political actor can use the security discourse in order to extract an issue from the political sphere and move it to the technical domain of security, where it cannot be controlled by the public anymore and where the State can take exceptional measures.

Security and biopower

If we claim that, in the end, security is about the preservation of life--both in what concerns internal measures of fight against terrorism, or international measures of protecting populations, we are touching another significant aspect of the transformation of the State in the globalized era. Commenting on the closing of La volonte de savoir of Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben inteprets it as follows: "Foucault summarizes the process by which, at the threshold of the modern era, natural life begins to be included in the mechanisms and calculations of the State power, and politics turn to biopolitics (.) According to Foucault, a society's 'threshold of biological modernity' is situated at the point at which the species and the individual, as a simple living body, become the stake of political strategies..." (Agamben 1998: 3). The turning point of modernity is, thus, the politicization of the bare life.

Michel Foucault has made an argument about the way in which, historically, the State has begun, since the end of the 17th century, to treat its subjects--the citizens --in terms of 'populations' while the power is more and more exercised as a power over the bare life. Series, statistics and probabilities are some of the means by which the State manages the population, with the purpose of ensuring its security. Thus the space where the State exercises its power becomes a space populated by masses, and not by citizens. The political concept of 'citizens' is replaced by the statistical idea of 'population'. The new technology of power--biopower--is taking in charge the population, as a whole, as a totality. Biopolitics is, thus, politics that is ordered, structured, organized by the principle of security--not security of individuals, but of populations (Foucault 2004). Foucault places this evolution in a paradigm that he calls 'governmentality'--or an 'art of government' intended to manage and control the populations through various security techniques.

This over-preoccupation for the preservation of life, to the detriment of other values, does not reinforce our democratic values; on the contrary, as Agamben notes, "Our politics doesn't know, today, of other value (and, implicitly, of other negative value) than life, and as long as the contradictions involved by this fact will not be annulled, Nazism and Fascism, which made of the decision on bare life the ultimate political criterion, will unfortunately remain actual" (Agamben 1998: 7; see also Arendt 1958).

The semantic field of the notion of 'security' is also particularly relevant for the way in which biopower is exercised. The term 'security' is most of the times used and conceived in relation with 'danger', 'threat', 'risk', 'crisis'. We will take as an example the Romanian National Security Strategy, but probably this applies to other national security strategies: the term 'security' appears 162 times, 'threat'--48 times, 'danger' --36 times, 'risk'--60 times, 'crisis'--28 times, and 'conflict'--35 times (SSNR 2007). This is, according to Foucault, the language used in medicine; the language that underpins the distinction between normal and pathological. The state of insecurity would thus pertain to the pathological, thus necessitating an intervention (of the State) to bring normalcy back in the life of the society.

Re-constituting sovereignty

The distinction between the internal and the external domain is one of the constituting features of the modern State, which is territorially constructed. Sovereignty is exercised over a given territory. The very identity of the State rests on a distinction between an inside which is ordered, domesticated, stable, and secure, and an outside which is anarchical, dangerous, irrational and unstable. Or, more than ever, this distinction is not very clear anymore. If "any political subject is constituted by the marking of physical, symbolic and ideological boundaries" (Devetak 2001: 192), then the loss of the distinction inside/outside threatens the very existence of the State as a political unit.

How is this distinction threatened nowadays? First, in symbolic terms, the development of the doctrines of humanitarian intervention and responsibility to protect discussed above places populations outside the exclusive jurisdiction of the State. The members of a people or a nation come to be considered only in their human--or, more precisely, biological dimension. The national identities are thus undermined by the growing responsibility of the international community towards human life in general.

Second, the physical distinction is also blurred. The borders have become porous: all kinds of flows are crossing them, and the State cannot control them anymore--be it about communication, money transfers, or even persons. The borders are not marking the distinction between us and them anymore, thereby posing an identity problem to the national political communities. This identity problem undermines State sovereignty in its core. This is why, through the security discourse, the States attempt at reconstituting the borders inside, by insisting on the national, ethnic and cultural differences between the natives and the immigrants. Now, the immigrants are inside, the terrorists are potentially inside, and thus, the frontier between us and them is, itself, inside the state. This is what justifies the institution of surveillance and repressive mechanisms. Not being able to reconstitute its territorial borders, not being able to control the flows that are penetrating its frontiers, the State takes refuge in the core if its attributions, the one that have been granted to it through the social contract: insuring security. This is the first and minimal attribution of a State which sees itself deprived of other marks of its identity--such as a coherent and cohesive national community (because of massive immigration) or the exclusivity of jurisdiction over its subjects (because of the claims of intervention from the international community). The State thus attempts at reconstituting its undermined sovereignty by re-constituting its political body (or the object of its governance) through the discourse of threat. The existence of common threats creates cohesion and holds together the political body and ultimately the identity of the State. This is why we think that the security discourse is a way of 'production' of the society as a cohesive object of governance by the political power (63)

The responsible sovereign: disciplining the State

If we look closely to the transformation of the notion of 'sovereignty', through the discourse of the international organizations during the last ten years, in order to include the responsibility to protect the population, we can also notice some aspects that converge with our previous arguments about the erosion of the external sovereignty understood as the exclusive jurisdiction of the State over a given territory, or, put differently, independence from foreign intervention.

Sovereignty as responsibility actually equates sovereignty with the obligation to insure security. Or, attaching obligations to sovereignty undermines its philosophical meaning--if we consider that "sovereign is he who decides on the exception" (Schmitt 1922: 1)--that is, he who is above the law and has the power of instituting the law. We have already shown in the previous section that the mechanisms of security (and, ultimately, repression) are the means of the State of defending itself from the dissolution of identity brought about by the globalization processes. Thus, on the one hand, sovereignty as responsibility to insure security leads to a consolidation of internal sovereignty, understood as the power of the State over its subjects. On the other hand, sovereignty as responsibility allows for the elimination from the international landscape of the States that do not abide by this norm (64): if a State is not able or not willing to protect its citizens, the international community has an obligation to intervene, says the doctrine of the responsibility to protect (R2P). From this point of view, the doctrine of the R2P is weakening the external sovereignty, understood as independence from any foreign intervention. From now on, it seems that another authority could exist, an authority that supersedes the State, which decides of the exception: because intervention is, in the international realm, an exception from the norm of sovereignty. Unfortunately, the legal doctrine of the R2P is still quite underdeveloped, especially in what concerns the subject that is the holder of this responsibility: if it is the international community, than, who is, actually, the international community? Is it the widely contested Security Council? Is it the weak and conflictual General Assembly? Is it a mere "coalition of the willing", as recent cases, including that of Libya, have demonstrated? Until an answer to these question is firmly provided at least in international law, the extension of the notion of the responsibility to protect over the concept of sovereignty is dangerous,

Another interesting aspect concerning the responsibility to protect is the preoccupation, in the security discourse, for the biological aspects of human life famines, natural calamities, diseases, which the responsibility to protect supposedly covers (UN General Assembly 2009). Thus, "the space of bare life extends to coincidence with the political space" (Agamben 1998), taking over all that used to be 'political' in international politics. The man is neither a citizen, nor a legal entity, holder of rights and obligations anymore; he is rather a statistical element, a living individual in a population, a subject of governance--a governance that is instituted for his protection, but not necessarily in his name. "The inclusion of bare life in the political realm constitutes the original--if concealed--nucleus of sovereign power. It can even be said that the production of a biopolitical body is the original activity of sovereign power' (Agamben 1998: 6. Underlined in original). Thus, the doctrine of the R2P institutes some kind of an international 'super-sovereignty', since, according to the Report of the Secretary General (UN General Assembly 2009), the international community can decide the exception from the norm of sovereignty. Moreover, through the responsibility to protect, the paradigm of governmentality discussed by Foucault (Foucault 2004) penetrates the international: because in the end, the rationale of the responsibility to protect lies in the danger of spillover of the negative phenomena brought about by civil wars, genocides or waves of refugees. Thus, the responsibility to protect is not only about securing human lives, but probably more about rendering the international governable, managing it as an object of governance and avoiding or marginalizing deviant phenomena.

We begun this article by wondering about the meaning of the widespread penetration of security preoccupations among theorists and policy-makers during the last thirty years. We tried to show, in the first reading, the way in which the notion of 'security' evolved and grew covering more and more aspects of daily life; how it was endorsed by the international community which ultimately found itself responsible for guaranteeing a minimum degree of security for populations through the doctrines of human security, humanitarian intervention and responsibility to protect. We also identified a renewed preoccupation for 'homeland security', the homeland being threatened from within by phenomena such as immigration or terrorism. We thus mapped the perimeter of the use of the notion.

The second reading was an attempt at deconstructing the meaning of security. Its purported opposition to liberty, its association with the exercise of biopower, its instrumentation by the political power in order to legitimize the institution of mechanisms of control and repression, as well as its taking over by the international community in order to discipline the States and to render the international realm more governable--all these point to a hidden, but fundamental malaise of the (post)modern State. Its external sovereignty is put under question by the claims of the international community to intervene in cases where States do not fulfill the obligation to protect their populations. Its identity is threatened by the globalization processes in at least two ways: first, by the porousness of borders as a criterion of distinguishing between the internal and the external realms; and, second, by the massive penetration of foreigners in its political body. But the State struggles to survive to these transformations by appealing to its core attribution, for which the social contract was instituted--insuring security. This is why the proliferation of the security discourse and its extension to all aspects of human life is vital for the survival of the modern, sovereign State.

* Acknowledgment: This article was written within "The Knowledge Based Society Project--researches, debates, perspectives", supported by the Sectoral Operational Programme Human Resources Development (SOP HRD), financed from the European Social Fund and by the Romanian Government under the contract number POSDRU ID 56815.


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(58) The deconstruction of this false opposition is the subject of the Challenge project, financed through the 6th Framework Programme of the European Commission, in which took part 60 scholars from 23 Universities and Research Institutes (

(59) The theory would deserve more attention, but it is not our purpose to get into details here. One of the best and most interesting commentaries on Waever's securitization theory is Williams 2003.

(60) The French language offers a more subtle distinction between intervention and ingerence.

(61) The tension between sovereignty and intervention has been widely discussed in the IR literature. See, for example, Weber 1995; Lyons and Mastanduno, 1995.

(62) We developed this argument in Cabanis, Crouzatier, Ivan, Mihali, and Mbonda 2010: 165-196.

(63) The construction of social cohesiveness through a discourse about threats and enemies has been successfully used in the case of the State of Israel. Being faced with a cultural diversity which was quite difficult to manage in the early 50s, Israel used the militarization of the entire society as a means to hold the political body together. See Ben-Eliezer 1995.

(64) Richard Ashley argues that the 'failed states', as a negative example, actually reinforce the hegemonic model of the sovereign statehood, which is the norm in international politics. See Ashley 1988.

Ruxandra Ivan, Author's research interests are theories of International Relations, Foreign Policy Analysis, Romanian communism.
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Date:Dec 22, 2011
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